Kuelap Fortress – Home of the Warriors of Clouds

Also known as the “Machu Picchu of the North,” the Kuelap Fortress once again stands proud after years of restoration work. These ruins are some of the biggest in the world, and you can find them in the Urubamba Valley.

The fortress was built sometime around 500 A.D., and was occupied by the Chachapoyas people, one of the many different indigenous communities in Peru. The Chachapoyas were fierce warriors, feared by both the Spanish as well as other tribes throughout the country. These people were also known as the “Warriors of the Clouds,” due to the fact that they lived over 3,000 meters up in the mountains. The fortress resides on a ridge that overlooks the Utcubamba Valley, allowing them to easily see any potential threats from miles away. This is also a point where the Andes Mountain Range meets the Amazon Rainforest.

This magnificent structure is believed to have been occupied until the Incas invaded. Although they put up a good fight, they were eventually forced to surrender. Life under Incan rule was harsh, and this is what led to the Chachapoyas siding with the Spanish during the time of colonization, around the mid 1500’s, when the fortress was abandoned. It lay empty until its rediscovery in 1843. It is amazing to see what has withstood the test of time, as many of the buildings still show etchings of a number of different geometric designs.

This massive fortress is testament to the lengths they were willing to go to protect their community. The blocks used to create the fortress are almost ten times larger than the ones used to make the Pyramids of Giza, and the fortress was large enough to safely hold thousands of people. Visitors to this historic site will be able to tour the outer stone wall that is still over 60 feet high in some places, and a number of the hundreds of different buildings within the city walls, including some of the 400 homes that still stand today. Tourists can also see the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the settlement that is also believed to have been used as some kind of space observatory.

Although most people might not know it, the ancient architecture from the north of Peru is completely different to that of the south. Many tourists comment on how different the Kuelap Fortress is, compared to the more well-known Machu Picchu. This is because due to the size of the country, the different indigenous groups evolved and adapted differently, and to suit their specific landscapes. Kuelap Fortress was also built hundreds of years before Machu Picchu, even before the rise of the Incan Empire. The uniqueness of the Fortress is what makes it so enticing to so many people, even those who have already seen some of the other ancient ruins that dot the Peruvian landscape.

The easiest way to access the Kuelap Fortress is through a small village called Tingo, situated within the valley. Although the village is small, this too makes an excellent stop before or after the fortress, where tourists can wander around the square and experience the local authentic culture.

The Kuelap Fortress is a great addition to a Peru luxury tour package, because it exists just on the border of the Amazon jungle, making it a great last stop in civilization before heading off into the wilderness. Although the Fortress can be accessed independently (thanks to the handy nearby cable car), going with a guide as part of a tour makes the experience so much more fulfilling. The guide is able to offer so much in-depth history of the site, that is lost if you travel alone.